The Parrots of Crescenta Valley

Many wild animals have adapted and even flourished in our increasingly urban Foothills community – coyotes, raccoons, possums and hawks. But there is one non-native wild species that seemingly defies credulity for surviving and thriving in the Crescenta Valley – wild parrots!

I first noticed them about five years ago, a small flock feasting on Juniper berries in the trees along our property line. As a Southern California native I had always been aware of their existence in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. I was surprised they had made it over this far, believing the old urban legend that they were a single flock that was released from a burning pet store in the ‘50s. Since then I’ve noticed their relentless spread through the urban jungles of LA, and have read that they thrive by the thousands all over California, and many other places in the nation for that matter. They thrive everywhere except, ironically, their native Mexico where parrot poachers have destroyed much of their habitat in order to smuggle them to – guess where? – here.

Those that are studying the emerging local parrot population say that our current lineup of some 13 different established species of parrots and parakeets point to escapees from those smugglers as the source for the wide variety of tropical birds rather than the more colorful “fire in a pet store” legend. Macaws, cockatoos, African greys, cockatiels and budgies are also spotted in LA, but don’t seem yet to have established themselves into flocks.

As springtime kicks in we’ll begin to see the parrots foraging across our valley in greater numbers. Their food source is what we traditionally grow in our yards and in retail landscaping, such as date palms, fruit trees and berries, nuts and seeds, even some flowers. The normal decorative plants we take for granted are a constant feast for the parrots.

They have a complex social structure and check in with one another on a nearly constant basis with distinctive squawks, constantly repeating “I’m here! My name is Polly! I’m here!” kind of like a very loud form of Facebook. I guess we should be thankful our teenagers don’t shout back and forth to each other rather than constantly texting.

Each evening the parrots find a tree to spend the night in and engage in an ear-splitting hour or so of sorting themselves into amiable groups for the night’s sleep. Bright and early the next morning they noisily reform into “who they want to fly next to” and begin their morning commute to their first meal of the day.

As their numbers have shot up into the thousands in the last few years, urban wildlife experts and ornithologists have created “The California Parrot Project” based out of the Natural History Museum downtown. They’re tracking the spread of this tropical phenomenon and studying them in true scientific fashion. Their website provides a guide to identify the different species, gives some background on them, and, if you care to participate, provides a form to send in sightings so they can monitor the parrots’ expanding range.

The parrots are beautiful to look at and provide an exotic flavor to our neighborhoods. But they can be noisy (to put it mildly) if you happen to live under one of their evening “sorting out” trees, not to mention the resulting mess left by a hundred parrots when they leave in the morning.

But perhaps more worrisome to wild bird lovers is that parrots may crowd out native birds, competing for nesting spots and food sources as their population explodes.

Parrots have few natural predators and our hawks don’t seem to know what to do with them. Like it or not they will become an increasingly familiar part of La Crescenta.

Some CV residents may welcome the parrots, and others will not, and sometimes attitudes are surprising. Even some fanatical animal lovers I know have reservations about them – that they’re loud and aggressive, and force the natives out.

I say that makes them just like us!